Is Tanzania Becoming an Internet Freedom Predator?

By Juliet Nanfuka |
Tanzania appears to be steadily sliding into a predator of critical social media users, as state authorities continue to arrest and prosecute users for expressing what many see as legitimate opinions. In recent months, the country’s newly elected government has used  a controversial new law  to prosecute at least seven social media users, in spite of  constitutional guarantees of free speech.
Tanzanian netizens are falling foul of the Cybercrimes Act enacted last year, whose stated goal is “criminalizing offences related to computer systems and Information Communication Technologies”. The law has been used to charge citizens for “publication of false information” in accordance with Section 16 of the Act. It states: “Any person who publishes information or data, presented in a picture, text, symbol or any other form in a computer system knowing that such information or data is false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate and with intent to defame, threaten, abuse, insult or otherwise deceive or mislead the public or councelling the commission of an offence, commits an offence, and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not less than five million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not less than three years or to both.“
On April 15, 2016 Isaac Habakuk Emily was appeared in court for the publication of false information using a computer system – in this instance Facebook. In a post, Emily referred to President Pombe Magufuli as an imbecile that could not be compared to the country’s founding leader, Julius Nyerere.  He appeared in court for insulting the president after his post was reported to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).
See report on State of Internet Freedom in Tanzania 2015
Since the Cybercrimes Act took effect last September, Tanzanian social media users have “gone a little quiet”, according to journalist Joseph Warungu. And for good reason, as Emily is not the first individual against whom the law has been used. In October 2015, Benedict Angelo Ngonyani was charged for “spreading misleading information” after he posted on Facebook that Tanzania’s Chief of Defence Forces, General Davis Mwamunyange, had been hospitalised following food poisoning. In the same month, Sospiter Jonas was charged for posting to Facebook content stating that Tanzanian Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda “will only become a gospel preacher.” The following month, four staff of an opposition party were charged for publishing “inaccurate” election results on Facebook and Twitter.
The stated objective of the Cybercrimes Act was to fight rising incidents of cybercrime such as bank fraud, mobile money theft, phishing attacks, website hacking and spoofing. However, even as it was being debated, human rights defenders warned that the government would use the law to suppress critical voices. As one activist stated, “We usually use various internet platforms to communicate our information—Twitter, Facebook, blogs, SMS, WhatsApp, etc. The use of all these forms will be rendered useless by the Act which in part criminalises transmission of any information deemed misleading, defamatory, false or inaccurate by the government.”
The Cybercrimes Act was reportedly passed in the middle of the night and has been criticised for disregarding press freedom and freedom of expression, granting excessive powers to police, and offering limited protections to ordinary citizens.
Clamping down on social media users is a trend that has been increasingly witnessed in East Africa and beyond.  In Kenya, Section 29 of the Kenya Information and Communications Act (2013) has been used to charge up to 10 social media users for “the improper use of a telecommunication system” in 2016 alone. In Uganda, Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act bears similar language and states, “Any person who willfully and repeatedly uses electronic communication to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication whether or not a conversation ensues commits a misdemeanor.” In the lead up to the February 2016 general elections, a series of arrest were made which saw social media users charged using this law.
Further afield, South Africa’s Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill (2014) also bears similar vague clauses that muzzle opinion of the media, bloggers and other independent actors that promote freedom of expression and increased state transparency. In Nigeria, the Frivolous Petitions Bill (2015), popularly known as the Social Media Bill, threatens to muzzle public expression online.
The Cybercrimes Act is one of several laws Tanzania  enacted in the lead up to the October 2015 general elections despite public outcry that these laws granted excessive powers to the police criminalised  expression and access to information, and did not provide clear legal recourse to citizens.
As affronts to citizens’ online rights in Tanzania and other countries continue, self-censorship is likely to prevail which in turn would have a negative impact on citizen participation, transparency and accountability in governance.
NB: Section 16 of the Cybercrimes Act 2015 has been adjusted to reflect the fine of not less than five million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not less than three years or to both.

Joint Letter on Internet Shutdown in Uganda

By Access Now |
Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Mr. David Kaye, Mr. Joseph Cannataci, Mr. Maina Kiai, Mr. Michel Forst, Ms. Faith Pansy Tlakula, and Ms. Reine Alapini-Gansou
cc: African Union
African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Secretariat
Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Secretariat
Domestic & International Election Observer Missions to the Republic of Uganda
East African Community Secretariat
International Conference on the Great Lakes Region Secretariat
New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Secretariat
Uganda Communications Commission
Uganda Electoral Commission
Uganda Ministry of Information and Communications Technology
23 February 2016
Re: Internet shutdown in Uganda and elections
Your Excellencies,
We are writing to urgently request your immediate action to condemn the internet shutdown in Uganda, and to prevent any systematic or targeted attacks on democracy and freedom of expression in other African nations during forthcoming elections in 2016. [1]
On February 18, Ugandan internet users detected an internet outage affecting Twitter, Facebook, and other communications platforms. [2] According to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), blocking was carried out on orders of the Electoral Commission, for security reasons. [3] The shutdown coincided with voting for the presidential election, and remained in place until the afternoon of Sunday, February 21. During this period, two presidential candidates were detained under house arrest. [4] The telco MTN Uganda confirmed the UCC directed it to block “Social Media and Mobile Money services due to a threat to Public Order & Safety.” [5] The blocking order also affected the telcos Airtel, Smile, Vodafone, and Africel. President Museveni admitted to journalists on February 18 that he had ordered the block because “steps must be taken for security to stop so many (social media users from) getting in trouble; it is temporary because some people use those pathways for telling lies.” [6]
Research shows that internet shutdowns and state violence go hand in hand. [7] Shutdowns disrupt the free flow of information and create a cover of darkness that allows state repression to occur without scrutiny. Worryingly, Uganda has joined an alarming global trend of government-mandated shutdowns during elections, a practice that many African Union member governments have recently adopted, including:  Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo. [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14]
Internet shutdowns — with governments ordering the suspension or throttling of entire networks, often during elections or public protests — must never be allowed to become the new normal. Justified for public safety purposes, shutdowns instead cut off access to vital information, e-financing, and emergency services, plunging whole societies into fear and destabilizing the internet’s power to support small business livelihoods and drive economic development.
Uganda’s shutdown occurred as more than 25 African Union member countries are preparing to conduct presidential, local, general or parliamentary elections. [15]
A growing body of jurisprudence declares shutdowns to violate international law. In 2015, various experts from the United Nations (UN) Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), issued an historic statement declaring that internet “kill switches” can never be justified under international human rights law, even in times of conflict. [16] General Comment 34 of the UN Human Rights Committee, the official interpreter of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, emphasizes that restrictions on speech online must be strictly necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate purpose. Shutdowns disproportionately impact all users, and unnecessarily restrict access to information and emergency services communications during crucial moments.
The internet has enabled significant advances in health, education, and creativity, and it is now essential to fully realize human rights including participation in elections and access to information.
We humbly request that you use the vital positions of your good offices to:

  • call upon the Ugandan government to provide redress to victims of the internet shutdown, and pledge not to issue similar orders in the future;
  • call on African states to uphold their human rights obligations, and not to take disproportionate responses like issuing shutdown orders, especially during sensitive moments like elections;
  • investigate shutdowns, in their various forms, in order to produce public reports that examine this alarming trend and its impact on human rights, and make recommendations to governments and companies on how to prevent future disruptions;
  • encourage telecommunications and internet services providers to respect human rights and resist unlawful orders to violate user rights, including through public disclosures and transparency reports;
  • encourage the African Commission on People’s and Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the UN General Assembly to resolve that Internet Shutdowns violate freedom of expression per se and without legal justification.

We are happy to assist you in any of these matters.
Access Now
African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Article 19 East Africa
Chapter Four Uganda
Committee to Protect Journalists
DefendDefenders (The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Global Partners Digital
Hivos East Africa
ifreedom Uganda
Index on Censorship
Integrating Livelihoods thru Communication Information Technology (ILICIT Africa)
International Commission of Jurists Kenya
ISOC Uganda
KICTANet (Kenya ICT Action Network)
Media Rights Agenda
Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
The African Media Initiative (AMI)
Unwanted Witness
Web We Want Foundation
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
[1] Uganda election: Facebook and Whatsapp blocked’ (BBC, 18 February 2016) <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[2] Omar Mohammed, ‘Twitter and Facebook are blocked in Uganda as the country goes to the polls’ (Quartz Africa, 18 February 2016) <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[3] Uganda blocks social media for ‘security reasons’, polls delayed over late voting material delivery (The Star, 18 February 2016) <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[4]  Brian Duggan, “Uganda shuts down social media; candidates arrested on election day” (CNN, 18 February 2016) <> accessed 22 February 2016.
[5] MTN Uganda <> accessed 22 February 2016.
[6] Tabu Batugira, “Yoweri Museveni explains social media, mobile money shutdown” (Daily Nation, February 18, 2016) <> accessed 22 February 2016.
[7] Sarah Myers West, ‘Research Shows Internet Shutdowns and State Violence Go Hand in Hand in Syria’ (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1 July 2015)
<> accessed 18 February 2016.
[8] ‘Access urges UN and African Union experts to take action on Burundi internet shutdown’ (Access Now 29 April 2015) <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[9] Deji Olukotun, ‘Government may have ordered internet shutdown in Congo-Brazzaville’ (Access Now 20 October 2015) <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[10]  Deji Olukotun and Peter Micek, ‘Five years later: the internet shutdown that rocked Egypt’ (Access Now 21 January 2016) <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[11] Peter Micek, ‘Update: Mass internet shutdown in Sudan follows days of protest’ (Access Now, 15 October 2013) <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[12] Peter Micek, ‘Access submits evidence to International Criminal Court on net shutdown in Central African Republic’(Access Now 17 February 2015) <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[13] ‘Niger resorts to blocking in wake of violent protests against Charlie Hebdo cartoons.’ (Access Now Facebook page 26 January 2015) <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[14] Peter Micek, (Access Now 23 January 2015) ‘Violating International Law, DRC Orders Telcos to Cease Communications Services’ <> accessed 18 February 2016.
[15] Confirmed elections in Africa in 2016 include: Central African Republic (14th February), Uganda (18th February), Comoros and Niger (21st February), Rwanda (22nd -27th February), Cape Verde (TBC February), Benin (6th-13th March), Niger, Tanzania and Congo (20th March), Rwanda (22nd March), Chad (10th April), Sudan (11th April), Djibouti (TBC April), Niger (9th May), Burkina Faso (22nd May), Senegal (TBC May), Sao Tome and Principe (TBC July), Zambia (11th July), Cape Verde (TBC August), Tunisia (30th October), Ghana (7th November), Democratic Republic of Congo (27th November), Equatorial Guinea (TBC November), Gambia (1st December), Sudan, and Cote d’Ivoire (TBC December). Other elections without confirmed dates are scheduled to occur in Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Libya, Mali, Guinea, Rwanda, Somalia, and Gabon.
[16] Peter Micek, (Access Now 4 May 2015) ‘Internet kill switches are a violation of human rights law, declare major UN and rights experts’ <> accessed 18 February 2016.

New Year, Old Habits: Threats to Freedom of Expression Online in Kenya

By Juliet Nanfuka |
The beginning of 2016 has been marked with a series of arrests and summonses of individuals in Kenya as a result of content shared through social media platforms. Contrary to the constitutional right to freedom of expression, the incidents that relate to up to 10 individuals illustrate the Kenya Government’s continued use of vague legal provisions to stifle online content critical of the state or well-connected business people and high-ranking officials.
On January 22, news broke of an attack by Al-Shabaab militants on the Kenya Defence Forces at the El Adde camp in Somalia. The following day, journalist and blogger Yassin Juma was arrested over updates and pictures  posted on social media relating to the attack. Juma was charged under Section 29 of the Kenya Information and Communications (KIC), 2013 for the improper use of a telecommunication system.
Section 29 of KIC on improper use of system states:
A person who by means of a licensed telecommunication system—

(a) sends a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or
(b) sends a message that he knows to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another person, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand shillings, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both.

On January 25, nine bloggers were summoned by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) for questioning over alleged misuse of a licensed telecommunications system. According to DCI investigation officer John Kariuki, the nine bloggers were under investigations following undisclosed complaints made against them. “We have complaints and that is why we are investigating them. No one is targeting them wrongly,” said Kariuki.
In a statement condemning the arrests and intimidation of Kenyans online, the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) stated that the events were tantamount to “criminalization of civil matters” with users being arrested on charges that ultimately infringe upon freedom of expression. BAKE’s statement lists the arrest and detentions of the following:

  • Anthony Njoroge Mburu (alias Waime Mburu) – arrested and charged for allegedly posting false information under Section 66(1) of the Penal code for content posted on Facebook accusing Kiambu Governor William Kabogo of importing substandard eggs. He is also alleged to have posted content intended to cause harm to Charlotte Wangui, who heads Sea Cross Farm in Kwale.
  • Patrick Safari (alias Modern Corps), a prison warden – arrested for comments on the Al Shabaab attack. He spent a night in jail, and police retained his three phones and laptop after his release.
  • Judith Akolo, a journalist with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) – summoned for questioning by the DCI for retweeting a post from Patrick Safari (@moderncorps) about a DCI advertisement of jobs within the department which was made public on deadline day (31st December 2015). Her phone was confiscated and her pin code requested. Eddy Reuben Illah – arrested for allegedly sharing images of Kenyan soldiers killed in an Al Shabaab attack on a WhatsApp group called “Youth People’s Union”. He was charged for the “misuse of a licenses telecommunication device”.
  • Cyprian Nyakundi – arrested after tweeting about a construction company that was linked to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, in alleged violation of Section 29 of KIC Act on the “misuse of a licensed telecommunication device”.
  • Elijah Kinyanjui – arrested for sharing a photo of a governor’s daughter on Whatsapp. He was also charged under Section 29 of KIC Act.

These arrests and summons add to a history of arrests made under laws marked by vague definitions and excessive powers granted to the state. The KIC (Amendment) Act, 2013 does not clearly define what constitutes content that causes “annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to others,” while the Penal Code has no clear definition of a “rumour” or “report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace.”
Further, the Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014 allows blanket admissibility in court of electronic messages and digital material regardless of whether it is not in its original form. Meanwhile, the Media Council Act, 2013 contains “broad” speech offences further reinforced by the Cybercrime and Computer related Crimes Bill, 2014.
Kenya’s technology sector is one of the fastest growing in Africa. The high internet penetration rate of 74% has bred a wave of citizen journalism which has flourished in the absence of the checks and balances present in traditional media and  seeks to place social justice and accountability through ICT at the forefront of the country’s governance.
While these  incidents in Kenya are the result of hate speech and rising terrorism fears, they are no doubt placing a chill on freedom of expression for citizens and the media and contributing to self-censorship for the fear of arrest.

Open letter to the Nigeria Senate on the “Social Media” Bill

By Civil Society |
An open letter has been delivered to the Nigeria Senate President stressing concerns over the Frivolous Petitions Bill which has provisions which threaten the use of social media in Nigeria.

Distinguished Senators,
We are a coalition of Nigerian, African, and international organisations writing to you about the proposed Frivolous Petitions (Prohibitions, etc) Bill that has provisions for social media regulation. We believe that the bill is a dangerous encroachment upon free expression and we urge you to reject it from further consideration. The use of social media is a mainstay of free expression in the digital age, and criminalising its use under the guise of “frivolous petitions” will adversely impact human rights while violating the principles underpinning Nigeria’s own constitution.
Background and relevant law

The bill, introduced by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, is officially called “An act to prohibit frivolous petitions; and other matters connected therewith,” and has been nicknamed “Social Media Bill” by concerned citizens. The bill requires any person submitting a petition to the government to have an accompanying affidavit. This requirement would harm government transparency, making it more difficult, and costly, to complain about public services or graft. However, the bill goes much further. Section 3(4) states:

Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media post any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and / or group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction shall be liable to an imprisonment for 2 years or a fine of N2,000,000 or both such fine and imprisonment.

Nigeria’s constitution provides strong free expression protections (Art. 39). Furthermore, Article 66(2) of the Revised Treaty of the Economic Community of West African States stipulates protections for the press. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Nigeria has ratified, also guarantees the right to freedom of expression (Art. 9). These protections were reaffirmed in the 2014 judgment in the case Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso finding that imposing criminal penalties for defamation fails to comport with Nigeria’s obligations. Internationally, free expression is protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations (UN) has specifically stated that the right to free expression applies to the online world — including social media platforms. In 2011, then UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue specifically called for decriminalizing defamation.
The bill violates Nigerian law and international law

The bill’s overbroad language would have a chilling effect upon free speech online. A user cannot be sure how to comply with the law, or know whether their posts are intended to “set the public against” an undefined group or the government. At the same time, the bill is illogically specific, and does not justify its targeting of WhatsApp, a private messaging application, and Twitter, a microblogging platform. In this way, the bill criminalizes defamation against individuals or groups, as well as dissent against the government, with wholly vague and disproportionate restrictions that do not strictly pursue legitimate purposes.
The bill also presents unbalanced and short-sighted policy calculations. This bill cuts against Nigeria’s spirit of openness and support for a vibrant free press and an innovative internet ecosystem. Journalists would be at risk of criminal penalties for reporting on public officials, silencing a crucial tool to combat corruption and encourage accountable governance. Already the continent’s largest economy, Nigeria has 15 million Facebook users, and its technology sector is rapidly expanding. This restrictive law will only harm innovation and deter investment.
We also note that this is not the only legislation that criminalises free expression in this way. The unrelated Cybercrime Act of 2015, now in force, imposes strong penalties (3 years in prison or N7 million) in the name of security under sections 24(a) and 24(b), again violating the right to free expression.RecommendationsWe were encouraged by President Muhammadu Buhari’s indication that he will not support a law that violates free speech, and by the statement credited to the House of Representatives that they will not do anything to close the space for free speech. We also remind you that civil society groups have drafted the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, a forward-looking proposal that will promote human rights while enabling Nigeria to thrive economically in the digital age.
Specifically, we urge you to:
  • Reject the Frivolous Petitions Prohibition Bill (aka “Social Media Bill”) in its entirety
  • Ensure that, should the Senate choose to continue with the process of considering the bill, the required public hearing before the third reading of the Social Media Bill is announced publicly and enables full civil society input and participation
  • Amend or remove the penalties under Section 24(a) and 24(b) of the Cybercrime Act of 2015
  • Support the Digital Rights and Freedoms Bill, as a guarantor of human rights in the digital age.

We are available to meet with you about this matter at your earliest convenience.
Access Now
Association for Progressive Communications
Centre for Information Technology and Development
Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)
Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Committee to Protect Journalists
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Enough is Enough Nigeria
Freedom House
International Service for Human Rights
Internet Sans Frontieres
Media Rights Agenda
Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
PEN International
PEN Nigeria
Rudi International
Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
Web Foundation
West African Journalists’ Association
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum